The Importance of Compassion

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The importance of compassion – but don’t forget to be wise

Lately I’ve kind of been into Buddhist mode again. During college I first got introduced to the teachings of the Buddha, but apart from a feeling of recognition I never really got into Buddhism. The last year has brought significant changes in my life. Old pain came creeping up to the surface and I had to deal with it. Coincidental or not, but when I experienced the most difficult phase, I found out about an English Buddhist monk called Ajahn Brahm.

Hearing this monk speak, with passion, compassion and a good dose of English humor, I heard a lot of the answers I was searching for, for quite sometime. And it made me realize that it’s perfectly fine to find my own way (be it in Buddhism or any other wisdom tradition.) I don’t have to become a monk to study the teachings. I don’t have to be perfect to become wiser and more compassionate. All these things which are so obvious, were somehow kept away from me for all these years. And that’s one of the great ‘powers’ of Ajahn Brahm. He knows his human psychology. We need to give people back their feeling of worthiness and self empowerment otherwise they will never be able to take full responsibility for their lives.

When I was struggling with life, a deep trauma came to the surface. I realized it was time to ask for help. I couldn’t do it all by myself. There is interdependence in the world, nothing exists by itself. I depend on others just as much as they depend on me. When I reached out, I was overwhelmed by all the help I received from others. I have never dared to expect so much compassion, love and help, but I got it anyway. It helped me to get up again, to crawl out of the pit of self-pity and lack of self-love and rebuild my confidence and self-esteem. In my case, Ajahn Brahm helped me find the inner source of strength and wisdom again. He wants us to become more and more human, by helping us being humane. To feed our hearts which have had to suffer for so long now.  As Lao Tzu said: Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.

The interesting thing is that I didn’t just learn from Ajahn Brahm. In the course of many years there have been countless teachers and teachings. I always regarded everything as my teacher. So I feel gratitude for all who have helped me along the path either by blocking my way or helping me get over or around the blockade. We tend to forget those who have obstructed us, even though they often teach us the most valuable lessons. It can often just take years before the lessons reveal themselves. When I got confronted by old pain, a reminiscence of something which happened in my past, at first I was overwhelmed and shocked. Do I really need to deal with this? Do I really need to look at this again? I thought I had somehow overcome it all, but in the end it turned out I only put it away deep inside in the dark.

Now, a couple of months later, I’m starting to cope with the pain better each day. It taught me that it’s important to have some discipline; I need to take care of myself (body and mind). I am responsible for my thoughts, so why not be compassionate with them? And I can pretend that I am not the body, but then I’ll be neglecting the truth of the matter. It’s better to take care of your body, by nurturing it with healthy food, exercise and perhaps a bit of meditation – which calms the mind too. Then I can look into the interconnectedness of mind and body, to look more deeply into the inner truth which underlies everything.

The basics are to be kind and compassionate. By being kind and compassionate you are steering away from the path of selfishness. To be selfish is to be self-sufficient; totally independent of everything and everybody else. In the end it only gets lonely, for you can’t share the joy, the compassion and wisdom. And why are we selfish? Isn’t it out of ignorance of our true nature? If we were to find out that by helping others by being kind and compassionate, we help ourselves; wouldn’t it make sense to accept this simple but powerful truth?

Living that way doesn’t mean you can’t make any mistake. That is another pitfall. In the West we are brought up with fear of punishment. If you make a mistake, you will be punished. But does this punishment do any good to us? Or does it only prevent us from ever telling the truth? What if the fear of punishment itself is the greatest blockade to the truth? To me one of the great examples of this truth is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. Only when there is no fear of punishment, can the truth come out.

If you want to get to know more about the teachings of Ajahn Brahm, you can watch a lot of videos online. I post this video which I watched today, which contains a lot of the things I wrote about. It’s not so much about being original, it’s about being honest. And I really get inspired by his talks, therefore I decided to write and share this.

More of Ajahn Brahm can be found on YouTube and his monastery has its own channel. You can visit it here: Buddhist Society WA

Some of the talks focus on the teachings of the Buddha, but all of them contain ideas and anecdotes which can be implemented in everyday life. They all come down to the same thing: Be kind and compassionate.


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  1. Linda

    Hey Pieter, thanks. It seems compassion is sometimes in short supply, and kindness is always the way for sure. I read this yesterday, but something I didn’t agree with was that of what you term ‘selfishness’. My experience has shown me that it’s only when we’ve had our fill our things that we get bored, whatever it is, whatever addiction ie. if it’s narcissism, or nicotine, it makes no difference.

    It is also (I believe) a more natural thing for women to nurture, but many men in this world, now passing, have taught them to put others first, and rate themselves second – not an enlightening thing for the world, and the main reason which originally spurred humanity away from love and compassion. I don’t think you’d disagree, and more than likely the video (which I haven’t watched) covers it all. It’s just a perception of the word ‘selfishness’ that I wanted to clarify. :-)

    I comment today because I read a line that sums up how I feel about selfishness: What we do for ourselves, we do for the all. It’s my hope that what we do for ourselves is give love, kindness, and then we can give it to the world in spades! It’s just a question of how long does it take one to get to that……with love, kindness, and acceptance without judgement – much sooner – so again, thanks to you.
    Much love and gratitude,

    • Pieter Navis

      Thank you for replying and clarifying Linda :)
      I think selfishness is more than just the part i talked about. The video i posted explained the part i talked about, but i’m only a copycat on this point hehe

      AH Almaas has written a lot about narcissism, i’m now reading “Point of Existence” which tries to show that narcisissism is broader and more deeply rooted in us than we think. Not sure what your ideas are on that.

      And to return a quote ( :) ) i posted an oldy i used some years ago on a piece on egoism:
      Selfless service is a myth. In serving others, we serve our true selves. “It is in giving that we receive.” We are sustained by those we serve, just as we are blessed when we forgive others. As Gandhi says, the practice of satyagraha (“clinging to truth”) confers a “matchless and universal power” upon those who practice it. Service work is enlightened self-interest, because it cultivates an expanded sense of self that includes all others.

      • Linda

        On the verge of sleep, the word narcissism with the image of looking into a mirror that goes on forever seeing all things. I see myself, I see it all.
        Who’s doing the looking? Who’s looking back? (I have had a profound experience looking in the mirror which begged that question once). My view on narcissism I suppose – that’s without actually thinking about, which I find is often reaps best results….now to sleep. Wonder what the book says?

        • Pieter Navis

          When reading Almaas, i had the experience of realizing that i’ve always felt narcistic on a deeper level. I could never really grasp it, but now i see that it’s self-inflation. The danger of narcissism is that you blow yourself up beyond your control, where it starts to live a life of its own. It’s important to be vigilant on this matter.

          We have to be true to ourselves and that means facing our own narcistic trades too. It’s not a shame to have them, every one of us has them. We all experienced neglect or embaressment when we were young, nobody came out of childhood unharmed. Some people have scars which go deep, while others hardly have a scratch. Still it is important to look into ourselves. The truth remains hidden behind layers of shame, guilt, rejection etc, unless we start looking inside and uncover our deeper essence.

          Narcissism is not wrong, it’s a healthy development of the ego. But once we’re grown up, we get stuck in childhood memories and we seize to grow. If we start to heal these areas, we can more easily get in touch with everybody and everything around us and be more at peace with and in our bodies. We can learn so much from our own narcistic tendencies! It’s like you’re saying.. only if we allow ourselves to instead of looking away.

          • Linda

            Mmm, it’s easy to create little monster thought forms that can run amok. Yes, I am saying that to deny our monsters gets us nowhere, and when we really look, we see it’s really a no thing at all….just a puffed up illusion born from a belief of separation. If we try to stuff it down, or push it out of the way, we can ignore it, but it’s not yet dissolved, and so we’re weighted with it. To look at it, talk to it, ask it of it’s origins, love it, and watch its energy come back and integrate into you, well, there’s hidden power in those monsters, there’s intelligence, there’s energy, there’s consciousness. ie. we’re smarter when we’re whole of course.

            I like honesty for the liberation it brings. Denial, to me, just means there’s a lack of knowledge, it’s that knowledge imbues us with the courage to take anything on. Then we laugh at how simple it is.
            Not quite on topic with compassion, lol, but then again, it really is compassion for ourselves….
            Cheery bye! ….

      • Linda

        Wow, that’s a powerful statement, and one to remember. Thanks Gandhi. Yes, I agree it’s in giving we receive. It just can’t be falsely propagated though, it has to be…. come to. I sound like an alien learning English! – bit late :D. I just prefer to let people hang loose with what they want to experience….and when they’re allowed that, then they gain wisdom and truth. Still haven’t watched video btw, ……I almost committed to saying I would, but I’m so mindful of speaking my truth these days. I’m sure it’s great!

        Ah, now that’s quite funny, narcissism. I’d wondered at the time it sprung up on the screen right there in front of me (lol) where it came from. A word that doesn’t seem to come up generally… wants to look? I think you must have pulled it out of my brain. So, I hardly even understand the word, but I’ll check the dictionary for its roots, chip in if you know already. Perhaps that’ll be a piece of yours I can look forward to reading when you’ve finished and contemplated the book – Point of Existence. Sounds interesting.
        Thanks for replying, I appreciate it.
        OMG I just checked, it’s one hour 15mins….have to download it another way 😉

  2. Caroline K.

    Hi Pieter, and thanks for sharing this. I read his book, “Who Brought This Truckload of Dung?”, years ago, and the stories he tells are simple, but transformative in nature. He is one of few that have the ability to transform via the written word. Cheers.

    • Caroline K.

      Laughing, oops, I got the title wrong on the book; it’s “Who Ordered This Truckload of Dung?” I remember him commenting on when he was building a Buddhist monastery in Australia, along with other monks, and, in the beginning, the only beds they had were used doors propped up and his had a hole in it with a wicked draft. His comment to the other monks was: At least he didn’t have to get up to go to the bathroom.

      • Pieter Navis

        jeah i really dig his style! So simple, loving and kind.. yet so much to laugh.
        Always find it so inspiring to hear all the anecdotes and stories these guys and girls collect throughout their path to wisdom

        i might check out the book you mention! Sounds interesting!

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